Earlier this year, President Trump implemented a series of immigration bans that would deny a specific group of people access into the United States. In response to this, Trinity community members decided to create a petition to make Trinity a sanctuary campus.
To publicize this petition, Trinity Diversity Connection (TDC) held a discussion on March 8 to discuss the effects of the travel ban and to introduce the petition to those who attended. Because Trinity has such a large influence in the surrounding community and in the city of San Antonio, many believe we should take advantage of that influence and take a stand against the ban.
“Trinity is a prominent institution with a lot of resources and an awful lot of privilege with the respect to this. We’re largely populated by people who are safe and whose opinions have an outside influence in terms of policy making. Our sense of outrage would be effective,” said Judith Norman, professor of philosophy and strong supporter of the petition.
Being a sanctuary campus does not necessarily require Trinity to provide shelter for vulnerable people. Rather, the petition is an attempt to show the people affected by the ban that Trinity will support them.
“The idea of being a sanctuary campus is similar to the idea of being a sanctuary city in that it is a gesture, and what you choose to do after you declare yourself a sanctuary campus is open to conversation,” said Tahir Naqvi, another professor present at the discussion.
The discussion welcomed all students who wanted to express concerns, fears or questions about the immigration bans and other federal orders that have affected minorities. It was led by a handful of professors and allowed students to discuss prompted questions in small groups.
“It was a relatively unique format. The professors moderated conversations among students; our job was not to direct the students or the conversations, but to make sure the conversations were going in a productive way,” said Simran Jeet Singh, one of the professors that moderated the discussion.
The intent behind the discussion was to educate those who had questions and to support those who had concerns in a safe, understanding environment. By offering a place for students to discuss the influence of federal policy on their lives, the discussion allowed students to ask questions they may not have been comfortable asking otherwise.
“I think discussion is important for raising awareness and opening a conversation about things like the sanctuary petition on campus. A lot of people signed the petition that wouldn’t have felt comfortable putting their name on it otherwise because they didn’t really know what was in it, and they didn’t know how it would work practically,” said Aubrey Parke, volunteer coordinator of the International Human Crisis Initiative (IHCI).
The group of roughly forty students who attended was very diverse, which allowed the conversations to be shaped by many different perspectives.
“People who came to this program were very open about their own feelings. In my group, I had Latinos, Latinas, South Asians, Muslims””a very diverse group who all had very different experiences and all had interest in talking about what their lives are like and how it is affecting their families,” Singh said.
The discussion, and other discussions like it on campus, allow students to open their minds about their beliefs and challenges students to support their beliefs with good reason.
“It’s really easy for us to operate in echo chambers, both socially and on the internet, to surround yourself with people that agree with you. You’ll never win anyone over, you’ll never convince anyone and you never get the chance to see where you’re wrong. I think the idea of bringing in multiple ideas or dialogues is important for seeing where you’re wrong, sharpening your position, and finding the best way forward,” Parke said.
By declaring itself as a sanctuary campus, Trinity will express its support of those who need protection. This decision does not bind Trinity to anything, rather it asserts our willingness to take advantage of resources to help others.
“There are many reasons why I think it would be meaningful for Trinity to declare itself a sanctuary campus. As someone who is part of the many marginalized communities in our society today, I think it would be a very powerful gesture; it would demonstrate support and resources for those who need it most,” Singh said.
Although the majority of Trinity students may not be directly affected by the immigration ban, those behind the petition seek to protect anyone in the Trinity community and beyond who may be affected.
“Students are not the only constituencies at Trinity. Students have families, for whom the information about immigration rights might be valuable. Trinity has employees, including custodial staff, which are not directly employed by the university but are members of the community,” Norman said.
The petition to make Trinity a sanctuary campus would provide help beyond shelter to whomever is in a vulnerable situation. Trinity could offer workshops, information campaigns, brochures, legal aid and even the physical protection of the chapel.
“This gesture is important, both literally, in terms of the situation, and symbolically, to know that there are powerful institutions within the San Antonio community that are looking out for them,” Norman said.
The petition intends to express the campus’s understanding and willingness to support marginalized people, despite the harsh political climate.
“A lot of the rhetoric around this issue politically has been fear-mongering, and I would challenge students to try to get beyond that rhetoric and to think more critically about what is going on and what the facts really are,” Singh said.
Singh suggests that, though there may be people who oppose the petition on campus, Trinity must adhere to its beliefs and mission as an institution.
“At the very least, this is a very good opportunity to get this conversation started. I’d really like to see that our decision is guided by our values as an institution. There are various opinions and interpretations that people have on campus; I think that s a good thing, but I think, when it comes to decisions like this, we need to lean on the shared values of our community,” Singh said.